Hiking the Larapinta Trail – Planning the Trek – Part 2 of 4
This is part 2 of our 4 part Hiking the Larapinta Trail Guide. For the other Parts check out the links below… (Links will become active over the next couple of weeks)
Planning the Trek
We had thought about undertaking the Larapinta Trail for many months and in advance had purchased the official trail notes and map pack from Northern Territories Parks and Wildlife. This is certainly a good place to get to start and we found the following resources useful:
First off you need to decide what level of support you want for undertaking the trail which will depend on a number of factors in terms of fitness, experience and down to your own individual preference. The ways to undertake the trail can be categorised as follows:
- Not Supported – Finding your own transport, organising your own food drops (or having no food drops) and planning your own itinerary.
- Supported Individuals/small groups – Companies like Larapinta Trail Trek Support specialise in supporting individuals/small groups in completing the trail. This is who we used to provide transport to Redbank Gorge and provide our box drops. Larapinta Trail Trek Support can also provide more services detailed on their website to provide more support and equipment.
- Guided end to end in a group carrying all your equipment – Organised food drops, transport and a guide with all the planning taken care of for you.
- Guided end to end Day Hikes with central accommodation – Each day you hike a section as determined by the company carrying only a day sack and then each night taken back to a central location where you have accommodation and full catering.
- Guided end to end day hikes with your equipment transferred to group camping sites – As above but this time where your gear is transported and you camp nearby the trail with catering taken care of.
Of course each of these options varies hugely in the cost to undertake the Larapinta and from company to company dependent on their offering, Since we went with option 2 above that’s what our guide will focus on.
How many Days?
This is a very good question and a hard one to answer as this will be dependent on how much time you have, what you want to see, fitness levels and the time of year. We chose 18 days to complete the hike which worked well for us. This is my view of what you get from varying amounts of time based on a reasonable fitness level…
- Less than 12 days – Not recommended in my opinion unless you are just after a fitness challenge
- 12 – 14 Days – Is the minimum I would attempt the Larapinta Trail in but would not undertake many side trips and have long days walking which can be hard if you experience some hot trail days. You would also not have too much flexibility in where you want to camp.
- 14 – 16 Days – A good amount of time to experience side trips and be a bit more flexible.
- 16 – 18 Days – Adds in the ability to include rest days as well as short hike days with lots of flexibility on different camp spots.
- 18 Days Plus – We have spoken to people taking more time to enjoy the side trips and more camping options at the top of the ranges without having to rush off. Personally for me more than 18 days would be getting a bit long, unless you had a long side trip planned.
To help with the planning I have included the spreadsheet I put together before the trip and adjusted it to accurately reflect what we did with some notes. This is downloadable as a PDF and as an editable Excel sheet (if this is useful I would appreciate a follow on Facebook, Instagram or a sign-up to our email list :-))
Which way to Travel?
We asked this question of ourselves and after chatting to others who had completed the trail decided to go west to east. Is this the best way to walk? Well it’s really up to you. We walked west to east so we could have the drop off at the start, walk Mt Sonder and then heading east we could be flexible with our finish day if we wanted to spend longer or finish earlier. The theory is the sun is behind you in the afternoon but since we always started at first light we walked into the sunrise and then normally stopped walking at lunchtime when it was getting hot. The benefit with walking east to west is you have the view of Mt Sonder getting closer and the official trip notes are written that way round so it makes them easier to read. There is a book however by Chapman which can be used either way around and we would have taken this if we had known about it before the trail.
Time of year?
We walked the trail in August setting off on 09th August. We had unseasonably hot weather which made for tough walking in the afternoon so we had lots of early starts packing up in the dark and setting off at first light to beat the heat. One day was so hot 20 people were taken off the trail so you need to consider this in the planning and be flexible enough to work with the weather.
What was it like using Larapinta Trail Trek for support?
Without a doubt if you are going to be undertaking the trail as individuals or a small group then check out Larapinta Trail Trek Support as they offer much more than you think. Larapinta Trail Trek Support ask for your personal trip plan (download mine here) and can offer advice if they think your plan is too challenging or needs adjustment for the current conditions. Once booked the food boxes are dropped off to be filled and then cable tied and all labelled up. You are picked up from your accommodation if walking west to east and then taken to the start of the trail. All of our boxes were at the drops and kept reasonably cool. We also left equipment in the boxes that we didn’t need for a $10 fee per box, this is an excellent service. All our excess equipment was dropped off again for us at our accommodation in Alice Springs when we returned. The good thing with Larapinta Trail Trek Support is they keep an eye on your progress in the log books at the trail heads and you know if you have a problem then they will be there to get you off the trail (we carried a sat phone, SPOT Personal Locator Beacon and also had some Telstra cover as indicated in our downloadable plan). We were also surprised at one of the trail heads to find Zac checking on us and providing a cool drink and fresh fruit (above and beyond what we expected). You can also get different packages providing equipment such as a personal locator beacon where Larapinta Trail Trek Support will also receive your check in messages over GPS to keep an eye on you.
How does the food work?
We had 3 food drops by Larapinta Trail Trek Support and planned that at the food drop locations we would have treat meals, which could be heavier and also some wine to go with it. Rubbish can also be left in the food drop boxes which works well. What food should you take? Well there is always a lot of personal preference included here and how lightweight you want to go. We are not ultra lightweight backpackers and enjoy some good food and some creature comforts. That said we do try and go as lightweight as possible. Most of our meals consisted of the following…
- Breakfast – Fresh coffee using a Snow Peak coffee dripper (we love our coffee) and muesli packs with hot water added.
- Snacks – 2 nut bars a day and some jelly or boiled sweets on the trail
- Lunch – Cheese that does not need refrigeration, rice crackers, tins of tuna or chicken
- Dinner – Dehydrated backpacker meals from Backcountry and Strive, most of which we had pre-ordered in bulk from Wild Earth. I also had some cake for dessert.
- Box Drop Days – We carried heavier tins and treats including wine. We actually carried some wine in plastic platypus wine carriers if we were camping where there was water the next night.
Top Tips for undertaking the trail…
- There is limited Telstra Mobile Reception but more than we thought there would be up on the ridges, see our downloadable trip plan for more info.
- Try to have food that creates little waste to keep the bulk down
- Dehydrate your own meals for tasty, nutritional and very little waste (we couldn’t do this as we were travelling but were envious of Mark who we met on the way who had very tasty home cooked meals)
- Have a nice treat meal in your box drops as you talk about food a lot on the trail! This will limit your flexibility of course as you will need to eat at the box drop and if not staying here you would want lighter meals.
- Take advantage of the nice meals at the kiosks on the way. Ormiston Gorge does nice lunches as well as Dinner packs to cook on the BBQ. Standley Chasm does a great camper pamper package which includes fresh scones on arrival, 3 course dinner and full breakfast, well worth it. If you take the side trip to Glen Helen Gorge and homestead they do excellent meals and cheap bunk room accommodation, well worth a visit.
- Make sure you hire or take your own personal locator beacon. We used our own Spot Gen 3 which we used to send check in messages to friends and family as well an SOS feature in an emergency, you can even use the tracking function to track your progress on a map for friends and family to track progress (this does use more battery power).
- Don’t take a big tent as a lot of the camping spots will only just fit a 2 man backpacking tent. We took our Big Agnes Copper Spur and have reviewed it, you can check out our review here.
- If you need power to charge devices then consider a solar panel and battery pack. We took a Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus and a Venture 30 battery which worked really well. We reviewed this while on the trail and you can check that out here.
- Early morning walking provides very dramatic light on the rock and is much cooler.
- Make sure you have enough water containers for carrying more water on sections where you will not have tank water. We took collapsible water containers for this. We also purified all water using our CamelBak All-Clear UV Filter, you can check out our review of this here.
- Camping on Brinkley Bluff was one of our highlights but you need to make sure you have the time to do this. We spent the best part of a day on top of Brinkley Bluff and watched the sunset and a sunrise.
- Make use of the gear return from Larapinta Trail Trek Support if you find you are carrying excess gear.
- Pack for all conditions. We had some very cold down jacket nights and then some very hot days, just don’t take too much! If you do you can always use the gear return service.
- If you can make the time then don’t rush the trek, explore and really enjoy it.
- Take enough suncream, first aid equipment and enough electrolytes. These are hard to find on the trail.
If you have not seen our Larapinta Highlights Video then check it out below..
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